ROME — Pope Francis has invited the families of two women — a Russian and a Ukrainian — to co-present the thirteenth station of the annual Good Friday Stations of the Cross, sparking what some are describing as a possible “diplomatic incident.”
The Vatican has selected fifteen families linked to Catholic voluntary associations and communities to write the Via Crucis meditations, since this year marks the Amoris Laetitia Family year celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation, reports Vatican News. The two women and their families have written the meditation for the thirteenth station together (the body of Jesus is taken down from the cross), and on Friday their families will carry a wooden cross and read their prayer for this station.
While sharing the “general concern” to bring Ukrainian and Russian women together during Friday’s Via Crucis at the Colosseum, Ukraine’s newly appointed Ambassador to the Holy See, Andrii Yurash, tweeted Tuesday that “we are working on the issue trying to explain the difficulties of its realization and the possible consequences”.
The ambassador too cited Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the Vatican’s ambassador (nuncio) to Ukraine, who asserted that reconciliation must take place once “the aggression is stopped”.
Italian media described the decision to invite representatives of the aggressor country and the attacked to participate in Friday’s liturgy as “a real blunder”, adding that the decision caused consternation in Ukrainian circles and institutions.
While inviting representatives of the two belligerent countries to walk a stretch of the Via Crucis together was supposed to be a sign of closeness and a common wish for harmony and peace, “a reaction was triggered on the Ukrainian side which had no may not have been planned”. writes Fausto Gasparroni in the Italian daily The Gazzetta of the South.
Others, like Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, a papal confidant, have defended the decision, insisting that it should be understood that Pope Francis is a pastor, not a politician. “He acts according to the evangelical spirit”, wrote Father Spadaro on Facebook, quoted in the Italian daily, “which is of reconciliation even against all visible hope during this war of aggression”.
The two women chosen for the Stations of the Cross are a Ukrainian nurse, Irina, who works at the palliative care center of the University Hospital of the Biomedical Campus in Rome and a Russian student, Albina, who is studying nursing at the same university. According to Irina, the two have been “natural” friends since they first met in the service.